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ATPM 3.04
April 1997




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Apples, Kids, & Attitude

by Robert Paul Leitao,

What Goes Up…

It was a beautiful Spring day in Southern California. The sun had burned through the morning cloud cover, the air was clear and the wind was mild. It was a day that everyone should be outside. My kids and I had spent the morning doing crafts, making snacks and playing a few games. It was the weekend and we had lots of fun things to do and plenty of places to do them.

Because of the climate, many California communities have playgrounds that are busy all year-round. The irony to a New Englander like me is that the winter season in California is often more favorable for mid-day play than the hot afternoons of summer. This year, Spring time has been filled with days that satisfy all the senses: blue skies, light breezes, song birds singing in the trees and the sweet aroma of blooming flowers faintly filling the air.

After the kids and I exhausted many of the fun things to do at home, we headed for a nearby park to enjoy the day and for a little "kick ball" practice. My kids appear to have very good eye-hand coordination (at least it seems that way from the educational computer games they play). Eye-foot coordination is a different matter. I've spent time helping them learn how to kick a moving ball and how to "plant" one foot so that they can kick better with the other foot. It's a time in their lives when they marvel at the things a father can do, whether it be kicking the ball well or catching it squarely in my arms.

It was a beautiful day for this father to be in his glory, basking in the "oohs and aahs" of his children as I showed them the best way to kick the ball. We were all caught up in the enthusiasm as I displayed my skills by kicking the yellow, rubbery ball straight up in the air. Time and time again the ball would rise vertically from my foot and be followed skyward by the bulging eyes and craning necks of my children. I'd grab the ball on its first bounce as my kids raced around the park trying in vain to catch the ball with their outstretched arms, only to have me kick it skyward again.

And happened. It was a moment that seemed to last an eternity. Two kids and one adult staring skyward with bulging eyes, dropped chins and bodies frozen in motion.

Well-established Southern California parks have beautiful, mature trees that shoot forth from the ground and spread their expansive branches toward the sun like a child extends its arms after waking from a night-long slumber. Majestic trees with towering limbs are filled in Spring with lush new growth. These parks are natural settings that would inspire a novelist.

But one tree, in particular, was a bit too novel. That's because it was now decorated with a rubbery yellow ball. This roundish man-made object sat perfectly in the "palm" of a very big limb, "captured" in flight by three of its finger -like branches.

Slowly but surely, I sheepishly gazed around the park to see if anyone had been witness to my errant kick. My two kids were still frozen in place with heads tilted and eyes focused upward, as if in disbelief. Matthew finally broke the silence as he gestured with his right arm and said in a puzzled tone "my ball?"

Inwardly I laughed, cried and giggled all within a minute. What could a father possibly say? There was no way to retrieve the ball and the spirit of lighthearted fun had quickly been replaced by a sense of bemusement and confusion. What could a father say? This father chose to say "let's get ice cream!" After all, I was feeling pretty lucky. No one, it appeared, had noticed my blunder and I had quickly convinced myself that it was an old, dirty ball that needed to be replaced anyway.

The three of us packed ourselves into the car and raced to the store as quickly as we could. The kids' concerns had already changed from thinking about the ball to who would sit where in the car: in the front seat with Dad or in the back seat alone. It's only a few miles from the park to the store but in many ways they are in two different worlds. At the park, kids can run around without concern. At the store, they hold Daddy's hand and look both ways before crossing the street. No birds are chirping, but cash registers are "dinging." There are no slides, but there are shopping carts.

Matthew likes to ride the cart by standing on the wheels in front. Jessica likes to push the cart while her brother browses the aisles from his vantage point. It's her idea of a good time and he enjoys "going along for the ride." I was in the dairy section and they had already moved one isle over and were picking out pasta. I asked them to behave and to wait patiently. "Otherwise," I admonished them, "we won't be stopping in frozen foods." They took the hint well. Now, the question was, "Which flavor of Sorbet?" They each have a favorite. Since it was my errant kick that brought us to the store, I purchased both flavors. They were happy and a little of my guilt was alleviated.

We arrived at home and I unpacked the groceries. They started up their Mac. Each of my kids have their favorite "edutaiment" CD-ROMs along with a few high-quality interactive games. Matthew has learned to play some games from beginning to end with his sister. He also plays some of the same games by himself. He's 4 years old and knows how to restart the Mac. He's learned a few of the menu bars and how to select various options, including how to print.

For awhile I had wanted to keep much of their learning centered around books. I'm not one for watching TV and I made every effort to have good books available at bed time. However, my children are learning in a different world than the one in which I was raised. Interactive multimedia, including computer-based resources, are a part of their total learning experience.

I've been amazed at how much they learn from computer-based resources. The interactive orientation of edutainment CD-ROMs and the manner in which they encourage children to explore and experiment have made them wonderful learning aids for my kids. It's helped them think more positively about learning things from other sources, such as books. I think this is because they are more apt to see themselves as part of the story. It's become their idea to read books at night.

For Matthew and Jessica, using a Macintosh is enriching their world in many, many ways with one notable exception—learning how to play "kick ball." At least for now, it stills requires a rubbery ball, moving legs and a little bit of open space. I draw some comfort in the fact that a few things haven't changed.

By the time they finished their computer game, dinner was ready to be served. The evening's menu at Dad's included their choice of pasta, sauce and a green vegetable. Since leaving the park, they had made only a couple of references to the lost ball. They did remind me to purchase a replacement quickly. There's no Sorbet unless they eat the spaghetti. The green stuff is sometimes negotiable.

I replaced the old ball several days ago. I t was a pleasant surprise for Matthew and Jessica. The new ball is orange, made of heavier gauge material and constructed a little bit better than the old one. It will make for better kick ball practice at the park. I think that being a Mac owner is a lot like playing kick ball. No matter the level of skill and experience, anyone can have a good time. We've had a lot of fun over the years as we use our Macs to earn, learn and play.

The old ball was lost while we were having fun. We got a little too excited and, just for a moment, lost track of the world around us. Perhaps Apple's recent history is analogous. Over the past eighteen months, I've been frozen in place on at least one occasion with my eyes focused upward as I muttered in a very puzzled tone, "Apple?" For awhile, they too lost track of the the world around them.

Today, many things about Apple Computer are new, including their release of the world's fastest laptop computer and a very impressive new line of Power Macintoshes. The results are encouraging: Better hardware, a new operating system under development and a leaner, more focused organization.

There's no doubt the Macintosh is allowing my kids the opportunity to learn together and to sometimes learn on their own. There is no other computer which allows a soon-to-be six year-old girl and her four year-old brother to play games, learn and explore with minimal parental interference. Sometimes I'll sit with them while they play. Sometimes they even allow me to have a turn. They love their Mac. They also like their brand new ball. Within moments of seeing the new ball, the heartache of losing the old ball was forgotten.

Maybe it's a bit of a stretch to compare Apple to a ball that's orange, but I do believe that what the company has lost in the short-term will be quickly forgotten when the new OS is released and the public has an opportunity to see the new generation of machines.

At the park on a windy Southern California day, I was curious as to whether or not the wind had rocked the ball from its spot. I looked, but the large "ball-eating" limb had been removed from the tree. It'll make it easier to avoid a similar mishap. Perhaps Apple's recent "pruning" will help it avoid a few mistakes, too. We'll see.

I'm looking forward to taking the kids and their new ball to the park for another round of kick ball. Maybe I'll kick the ball high in the sky again. I can already hear my daughter say in her drawn-out way, "Daddy, don't you remember what happened the last time you did that?" "Sure," I'll say. "Don't worry, the ball-eating limb is no longer there." "But Daddy," she'll say, "what happens if the ball goes even higher?" "Not a problem," I'll tell her. "What goes up, must come down." But just in case it doesn't, I just might say, "By the way, what was that flavor of Sorbet you like so much? You know, the stuff we get at the store that looks like ice cream, but tastes like frozen fruit?" "Daddy, you're so silly," she'll say. "It's not time for desert, we haven't even had dinner! Can we play kick ball now?"

"Kick ball," I'll say to myself as I look up. "We only came here to play kick ball. Why do I need to make things so difficult?"

It's only child's play, isn't it?

[apple graphic] "Apples, Kids and Attitude" is © 1997 by Robert Paul Leitao,

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